17 December, 2008

Our Heritage

After coming to Hyderabad I realized how I, as a Mumbaikar, am more aware of British culture, architecture and heritage (the English language, the railway system, the buildings in South Mumbai) than the much more vast and ancient Indian culture, heritage, and architecture!

Here in Hyderabad, as in many parts of India, most of our heritage has and is being encroached upon by squatters (including by thoughtless sarkari offices) or just falling into ruin. It's mind boggling how we don't appreciate and preserve our own heritage.

A few weeks back the Maharani of Jodhpur visited Hyderabad and was shocked at how most of the heritage of the royalty of the former Hyderabad state had fallen into ruin with the neglect at the hands of the Govt./ASI. Apparently, she wanted to take over at least one of the ruined former palaces (King Kothi) to be able to restore it.

However there is some hope. People are becoming more aware and some of the buildings are gradually being restored. I recently visited one of the palace complexes of the former royalty (Nizams) called "Chow Mahalla" parts of which have been restored and some of the artifacts, historical information and photos put up in exhibition rooms. It gives a fascinating insight to a bygone era of our history and culture. I was struck by how different life is now. But, I was struck even more by how much of our past culture, thinking and way of life we still carry in ourselves (even though the buildings are falling into ruin) because, at the core, we still are the same people with much of the changes being superficial. Our culture (sanskar or tehzeeb, whatever you might call it) is much stronger than we might think!

I was amazed by how many heritage structures (palaces, forts, mosques, temples, tombs, parks, etc.) this place has. Some of this is preserved in the form of hospitals, schools, colleges, museums and through other initiatives by the royal families and other private parties.

I had been to Aurangabad about 2 years back and I was heartened by how there is a concerted and careful initiative by the govt. (supported by other parties) to systematically restore and preserve that vital heritage site of our country. Aurangabad, and the surrounding area, has some of our most ancient and amazing (UNESCO designated) heritage sites such as:

The Ajanta Caves comprising ancient Buddhist, Jain, & Hindu caves depicting the life and culture of those times through paintings and sculptures. These are located in an isolated horseshoe shaped ravine and the place is magical. I did not feel like leaving the place and still get goose-bumps thinking about it!

The Ellora Caves comprising ancient Buddhist, Jain, & Hindu caves depicting the life and culture of those times through sculptures.

The impregnable Daulatabad Fort (Devagiri in ancient times) which was never conquered by any enemy.

The "Bibi Ka Maqbara" (the Taj of the South) which Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb's son built in memory of his Mother.

The ancient Aurangabad caves comprising 10 neglected caves on the outskirts of and overlooking the city.

The tomb of Emperor Aurangzeb. What strikes one about this tomb is it's simplicity! It's just a mud grave with a marble jaali around it, which was added by the British because they felt it was too simple and unassuming for an Emperor!

Just being in such places and imagining what kind of life our ancestors must have led transports me into a different world and gives me a different perspective on the life we lead now. Sometimes, I wish I was born in more ancient times, life was simpler then!

One way in which we are definitely different from our ancestors is the extent to which we are dependent on things, conveniences and technologies!

-- Parvez Kudrolli


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